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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Player Piano 2 – Famous Pianists around 1900
Waltz Op.64 No.1 [1:50]
Eugen d’Albert
Bolero Op.19 [7:34]
Alfred Reisenauer
Etude Op.25 No.6 [1:44]
Moriz Rosenthal
Ballade No.1 Op.23 [8:56]
Ferrucio Busoni
Etude Op.10 No.5 [1:33] Etude Op.25 No.9 [1:03]
Mischa Levitzki
Etude Op.10 No.12 [2:21]
Mieczyslaw Münz
Scherzo Op.31 [8:04], Sonata No.2 Op.35 (movements 3 and 4 only) [8:31]
Alfred Mirovitch
Ballade No.3 Op.47 [7:16]
Leopold Godowsky
Ballade No.4 Op.52 [8:59] Waltz Op.64 No.2 [3:19] Nocturne Op.15 No.2 [4:18]
Leo Ornstein
piano rolls published between 1914 and 1926

The title is blunt. This is the second volume of a Player Piano series and is devoted entirely to Chopin. As for the question of “famous pianists”, well, yes and no. I doubt anyone but a pianophile will have encountered Mieczyslaw Münz, Alfred Reisenauer or Alfred Mirovitch and whilst more will know that Leo Ornstein was a pianist not many will know that he recorded rolls. And as for 1900, well, again, not quite. Helpfully the long-lived Münz was born in 1900 – though even he wasn’t recording on rolls until some time before 1923. His even longer-lived contemporary Ornstein’s rolls were published between 1916 and 1924. That leaves d’Albert, Glasgow-born scourge of all things British, Rosenthal, Levitzki and Godowsky. Perhaps it’s fairer then to say that we have here four magnificent specimens of their breed and four rather lesser ones.
Lesser ones perhaps but certainly not without interest. It’s a shame that we are limited to a single roll each from Münz and Reisenauer. The latter died young at forty-four in 1907 but this roll of the Bolero was made for Hupfeld and is here transferred via the Ampico system. A marker can be put down for the roll fanatics, if there are any. Levitzki’s disc recording of the Etude Op.10 No.5 was made for American Columbia in 1923. This roll was published in 1920. Levitzki was born in 1898 so it’s likely the roll was made around the end of the War – say 1919. Leaving aside the somewhat wearying treble sonority of the roll transfer – a touch jangly and over-bright - we hear distinct differences. The tempo is basically the same but the sound-world on the late acoustic is so much more alive, the rhythm infinitely more convincing, left hand accents integrated and not deposited crudely courtesy of the roll system.
Acknowledging such palpable and in many cases inflexible limitations we can still conjecture on the nature of the stylistic playing and mannerisms of the pianists. Some of course made contemporaneous disc recordings of Chopin, as did Levitzki. Busoni’s rhythm is decidedly choppy in his Ballade performance; the rhetorical pauses and lack of true legato owing much to the system under which he laboured. Capricious rubati also stalk the d’Albert. Godowsky’s unevenness in the studio, whichever kind, does make itself apparent from time to time, whilst Ornstein digs in with aplomb if occasionally ponderous aplomb.
Thankfully we have potted biographies of each musician. You’d think this would be standard by now but you’d be wrong. With the caveats as noted above, including the 1927 Bösendorfer, it’s really only specialists who might like to engage with this material.
Jonathan Woolf


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